Hundreds attend funeral for Ward 3 Councillor Bernie Morelli

Funeral services were held Monday morning for longtime Hamilton city councillor Bernie Morelli.

Funeral mass held Monday morning at Hamilton's St Patrick’s Catholic Church

Almost 1,000 people attended funeral services for Hamilton Coun. Bernie Morelli Monday morning, a mix of citizens, politicians, family and friends making up the crowd of people at the solemn ceremony at St Patrick's Catholic Church.

The wide variety of people reflected his broad impact in the city over many years: City cleaning staff were there, as was city manager Chris Murray and other senior city staff, all of city council, Ontario NDP leader and Hamilton Centre MPP Andrea Horwath, Hamilton Centre MP Dave Christopherson, current and past members of the Police Services Board, as well as many police officers and firefighters.

Morelli died Tuesday night at the end of a long illness. He was Hamilton's second longest serving councillor.

Bob Morrow, a former long-time Hamilton mayor, was the organist at the service.

A book of condolences had been set up at city hall, and Mayor Bob Bratina brought it with him to give to the family after the service. 

The funeral homily was delivered by Rev. Fr. Peter C. Ciallella. He agreed to share his homily for those who were interested but unable to attend the funeral mass. Rev. Fr. Ciallella attended Cathedral Boys High School with Morelli's sons and had been in the same ward with him at St. Joseph's Hospital in 2013. He anointed Morelli on the night of his death.

Funeral Homily for Bernard Patrick (Bernie) Morelli

January 20, 2014

St. Patrick Church

Hamilton, ON

Rev. Peter C. Ciallella

Hamilton remembers Coun. Bernie Morelli Monday morning. The funeral for the long-time councillor will take place at 10:30 a.m. (Julia Chapman/CBC)

Dear members of the Morelli and Calzonetti families, extended family members and friends, civic and religious leaders, members of the Police Services Board, constituents of Ward 3, parishioners of St. Patrick, fellow Hamiltonians, brothers and sisters in Christ:

Today we give final rest and repose to a great family man, friend and leader, Bernie Morelli. The liturgy calls to mind that we who are baptized in Christ participate fully in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. We are called from our former life of sin into a glorious life of grace and peace that the Lord has prepared for us.

The readings remind us that we do not walk alone in this world. The Lord blesses us with his abiding love and grace, and of course, he fills our life with the presence of family and friends. Life is a precious gift from God to be lived fully, each and every day.

The Gospel from Matthew poignantly reminds us how we ought to live and how we shall be judged: I was hungry, you gave me food, I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger, you welcomed me, I was sick and you took care of me. We do not simply pay lip service to our faith and core values for we shall be judged based on our actions and our witness of faith.

Bernie Morelli: 'If you're not living on the edge, then you're wasting space'

Our brother in Christ, Bernie, lived by that creed. He not only said, "I love you, I have your back", but he showed us with his commitment to faith, family, friends and public service. Bernie would often say, "If you're not living on the edge, then you're wasting space." Bernie lived by an ethic of hard work and dedication – values that were handed down to him by his parents, Joseph and Matilda. Bernie never forgot his roots and it would be that same ethos that would guide him throughout his personal and public life.

As a family man, Bernie always looked out for his children, companion, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and extended family and friends. If you needed a friend, a support, a mentor, a helping hand, Bernie was always there. I recall being in the same ward at St. Joseph's Hospital about eight months ago. I would ask "how are you doing Bernie", he would answer but then he would ask about me, my family, parents. Then he would speak with beaming pride about the accomplishments of his children. Bernie was not self-absorbed or selfish – he always showed care and concern for the other. And of course you know you would get some advice or encouragement and yes at times, even admonishment - but always with a sense of respect and genuine concern.

A Hamilton police honour guard stands outside the funeral for Hamilton councillor Bernie Morelli. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Bernie and I shared many things in common – our love for sports, football, our attachment to our alma mater, Cathedral High School and of course our passion for food! Bernie would remind me, "Fr. Pete, you and I have to get back on track, watch what we eat…" Bernie would joke how he had different sets of clothes – clothes for regular size Bernie, larger size Bernie, and extra large size St. Paul reminds us "I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith…" Our brother in Christ, Bernie, lived those words each day of his life.

Those who served with Bernie on Council and on different committees can attest to the battles Bernie would face, always with a sense of purpose and principle, looking out for the underdog – the elderly and those with special needs. But Bernie also knew how to find common ground and consensus, especially when different parties were entrenched in their views and opinions. Bernie would find the way to bring those opposite sides together. Even if you had a fierce debate with Bernie, at the end of the day, you could still hang out together for a beer and chat like two old friends.

Commitment to public safety

Another facet of Bernie's life we cannot forget is that of service. Even after a successful and distinguished career in senior management at Dofasco, Bernie committed himself to public service, three years as a trustee in the Hamilton Wentworth Catholic District School Board and nearly 23 years of tremendous, outstanding service as Ward 3 City Councillor. During that time Bernie served on numerous committees, supported many worthwhile community projects, attended countless functions, touch-based with all of his constituents, and supported the work of the churches and religious organizations.

Of course one aspect of civic duty we cannot overlook was his commitment to Policing and public safety, having served on the Police Services Board, including his time as Chair from 2000-2010 and 2013. Bernie served admirably right to the end. I recall telling Bernie a few months ago, "Bernie, perhaps it's time to step down and look after yourself."

He just looked at me, that famous Morelli stare – the one where you can just hear him say in the back of his mind – what are you talking about!

Then he calmly said, "I still feel I have something to give" And give he did, including the realization of his long-standing dream of a new seniors' centre and recreation complex near the former Scott Park High School. One can only hope that the legacy he left behind can be carried out with a measure of passion and commitment to the degree that he demonstrated throughout his life of service.

We heard how Bernie could be tough when there was some contentious debate, but his exterior toughness was surpassed by his generous, warm and compassionate heart. The stories abound about how Bernie was there for family, friends, colleagues and constituents when we needed a big shoulder to lean on.

Farewell not goodbye

Bernie also had a special affection for his pets, and he loved music and culture.

His interest and scope in art, sports, history and culture was far-reaching and that is why a conversation with Bernie could go on and on, because he knew so much and grasped well the complexities of life and all of its challenges. Bernie's humanity also shone through with the way he carried on this past year, despite his illness, always with dignity, class and grace.

One area of Bernie's life I was privy to was his faith. His faith came through, not so much with words, but through action and commitment. Yet in those private conversations Bernie demonstrated a deep respect for the faith he practiced and believed, asking for a prayer or two or offering his own prayers for.

In that same faith, we turn to the Lord as we bid farewell to Bernie. We do not say a permanent goodbye, but a farewell, until we see him and our loved ones again. Reunited with his beloved parents and his brother Ron, we hold fast to the belief that will sustain us and give us hope through our sadness and grief.

And to our beloved friend Bernie, we say, well down, good and faithful servant, rest in peace and enter into the Father's kingdom of joy and peace. Amen.

Morelli, who worked for Dofasco for 25 years, was first elected to council in 1991. Before that, he first served as a trustee for Ward 3 for the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board.

He also served as a council appointee on the police services board from 1994 to 1997 and was chair in 1996. He joined the board again in 2000, serving as chair from 2000 and 2009. He became chair again in October and was still in that role when he died.

Morelli's failing health was no surprise around city hall. He missed several meetings in the last few months as he battled illness.

He took two months off last summer and returned in August. While he stayed mum about the nature of his illness, "I'm looking good. I'm feeling good," he told CBC Hamilton.

"My doctors, when they read this, would say 'What is he doing?' But it's in my blood."

Morelli's final council meeting was on Dec. 11, when the visibly weakened councillor appeared long enough to move a motion to build a new $8-million sports facility in the Pan Am precinct. It was deemed a legacy project for Morelli, who received a long-standing ovation.


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